London Zoo’s architecturally significant Snowdon Aviary is about to reopen after it was converted from a home for birds into a home for monkeys.

Snowdon Aviary demeshing July 2021 (c) ZSL London Zoo

Conceived by the late Lord Snowdon and designed by Cedric Price, this Grade II* listed building opened in 1962 and remains one of the most innovative architectural structures since its construction. The structure was pioneering in its use of a tubular aluminium tetrahedra framework and high tensile steel cables for support; drawing inspiration from the Festival of Britain’s Skylon. Legend has it that the late Lord Snowdon placed a secret tribute to his then wife, Princess Margaret, into the original design of the Aviary: when viewed from above, the walkway formed the shape of an ‘M’ for ‘Margaret’.

Over the past few years, it’s been remodelled to a design by Foster + Partners to become the zoo’s new home for Eastern black and white colobus monkeys – the first of its kind in the UK. Inside the new canal-side walkthrough, visitors will be able to walk amongst the colobus troop, as they leap from tree to tree.

Soaring 80ft above the Primrose Hill skyline, the new walkthrough features a range of monkey upgrades, including multi-level sunny and shaded basking spots for the ten troop members to lounge in, more than 800 metres of rope to swing on, 1,347 new plants and trees to leap amongst and a 30ft waterfall, flowing into a peaceful lagoon.

Colobus monkey in its new home (c) Ian West PA ZSL

The most arboreal of all the monkeys, colobus monkeys spend the vast majority of their time in their treetop homes, rarely descending to the ground. Unlike other monkeys, they don’t have thumbs –the word colobus derives from the Greek word for ‘mutilated’.

Exclusively herbivores, colobus monkeys are native to forest regions of central Africa and live in groups of between 8- 15. They use branches as trampolines, bouncing up and down to get lift-off for leaps of up to 15 meters (50 feet) from tree to tree. As they drop downward, they fall – flying with outstretched arms and legs to grab the next branch. Their mantle hair and tails are believed to act as a parachute on their descent.

They’re also prolific farters!

ZSL London Zoo’s Chief Operating Officer Kathryn England said: “Colobus monkeys are nicknamed the ‘high-flying monkeys’, because of their impressive leaps – as they drop from branch to branch, with their arms outstretched, it’s believed they use the long hair on their body and tails as makeshift parachutes. It’s truly a sight to behold, and we can’t wait to share this and more about these incredible primates with our visitors.”

The Grade II* listed Snowdon Aviary’s restoration and transformation into the Monkey Valley walkthrough involved 35,000 hours of sensitive construction: abseilers replaced over 1115sqft of aluminium mesh wrap, before deep cleaning the four towering tetrahedrons that create its distinctive shape and replacing 37 cables to provide the tension that holds the structure in place.

The total cost of the project was just over £7 million.

The new monkey home opens on Monday 15th August, and visitors should book tickets to visit in advance to avoid the long queues.

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3 comments
  1. mikeH says:

    Where are the birds now or have they all escaped?

    • Peter says:

      Long since moved into other aviaries, though they are considering trialling some other species including birds in there once the monkeys are settled in fully.

      Its already soft-open, if you get to the zoo early enough can go over and there’s a table near it where a member of staff will give you a paper reservation ticket. (Went on the 3rd and were still options and it was noon when we arrived at the zoo.) Bit of a squeeze on the “airlock” cages to get in and out but good time (also worth going over even when dont have a tour ticket as can still good views from the outside, and their indoor area’s windows are in the “regular” zoo footpaths.)

  2. Linda Tansell says:

    I was wondering about the birds too .

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